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Moment of truth for ABC factions

  • Court to rule on power struggle

Mohalenyane Phakela

PROFESSOR Nqosa Mahao and his colleagues will this week learn whether or not their quest to assume office as the new national executive committee (NEC) of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) succeeds.

This follows Thursday’s High Court decision to reserve judgement in the case in which three ABC legislators challenged the outcome of the 1-2 February 2019 ABC elective conference which ushered in Prof Mahao and others as the party’s new NEC.

Whichever, way the verdict goes, it will have monumental consequences for the fractious ABC which faces collapse as a result of the power struggle between the old and new NECs.

Last week, Prof Mahao gave ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane a one week ultimatum to allow him and the rest of the new NEC into office or face a no confidence vote in parliament.

Prominent ABC legislators, Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) filed a court application seeking the nullification of the election of Prof Mahao and others on the grounds that the polls were marred by gross irregularities including massive vote rigging.

On Thursday, the High Court bench comprising of Justices Thamsanqa Nomngcongo (presiding judge), Sakoane Sakoane and Moroke Mokhesi reserved judgement to any day this week after hearing arguments from the applicants’ and defendants’ lawyers.

The judges reserved judgement to give themselves time to write the verdict which they intend to deliver before the end of this week.

allow the applicants’ lawyer, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, to file supplementary heads of arguments as well as to allow the respondents’ lawyers to reply to the arguments that would have been filed by Adv Sepiriti.

Prof Mahao was elected into the new NEC together with ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and ‘Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).

But the ‘new’ NEC’s election was subsequently challenged in the High Court on 11 February 2019 by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.

The case has been postponed several times largely due to the claimed illness of Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase who handled the case from February when it was first filed until a 24 May 2019 Court of Appeal order for it to be heard by any other High Court judge (s).

The apex court issued the order after the Mahao faction appealed against Justice Mahase’s judgement in a related case in which three ABC members, Motseki Lefera, ’Matumisang Ntiisa and Martha Makhohlisa successfully filed an ex parte (one sided) application for the nullification of the ABC’s elective conference.

The judgement sparked controversy especially as the trio did not cite the Mahao camp in their application. Justice Mahase granted the order despite her repeated failure to preside over a similar but earlier 11 February 2019 application by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.

When the case finally got underway on Tuesday, the applicants’ lawyer, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, endured a torrid time at the hands of three judges who poked holes into his clients’ case.

The ABC, the ABC’s new NEC, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN), Prof Mahao and other candidates in the ABC polls are cited as the first to 44th respondents in the lawsuit.

After a barrage of probing questions from the judges, Adv Sepiriti eventually told the court that he would only be suing the LCN in their capacity as the organisation that ran the polls on behalf of the ABC and announced the new NEC line-up.

Adv Sepiriti excused the other 43 respondents after failing to convince the judges that they deserved to be cited in the matter.

Adv Sepiriti had argued that his clients wanted the ABC elections nullified because they were marred by vote rigging. He said there was a variance of 70 votes which could have affected the outcome of the polls. He also alleged that some people voted twice and further accused Mr Lebohang of canvasing for votes during the elections. Mr Hlaele, the now-estranged son-in-law to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, beat the then incumbent Samonyane Ntsekele to land the powerful post of secretary general.

“The total number of voters who were expected were 1537 but the total number of votes for the deputy leader were 1607 which leaves a variance of 70 and there are allegations of councillors (ABC) voting twice,” Adv Sepiriti told the court.

“Another irregularity was that of people who accompanied each other to the voting booth despite not having any physical disabilities. The 17th respondent (Mr Hlaele) was also seen by one of the observers (Mpho Mokheseng) lobbying voters.”

However, the three judges were not satisfied with Adv Sepiriti’s submissions, saying they lacked evidence. They also asked him how the 70 votes’ variance would have changed the fate of Messrs Lehana and Sello who were contestants for the deputy spokesperson and treasurer’s posts.

On Thursday, the old NEC’s lawyer, Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane, told the court that his clients agreed with the applicants and therefore the court should order fresh elections as those which ushered Prof Mahao and others were tainted by irregularities caused by last minute changes to the voting delegations of 30 of the ABC’s constituencies.

“My clients submit that there were irregularities during the elective conference in that 30 constituencies changed their delegations upon arrival and the LCN refused to use the amended voters roll,” Adv Setlojoane said.

“The constituencies wrote letters to Mr (Samonyane) Ntsekele, the old NEC secretary general, informing him about the changes to the voting delegations. However, the LCN used a voters’ roll which was not signed by the ABC’s Credentials Committee and rejected the signed one. The LCN further continued to conduct elections despite the objections which were raised.

“Mr Ntsekele’s founding affidavit states that as the NEC, it is their duty to ensure that each member of ABC is treated fairly so since there were irregularities during the elections, it is only prudent that the party goes for re-elections. The test is not about the outcome of the elections but fairness to every member of the ABC,” Adv Setlojoane said.

However, the three judges queried Adv Setlojoane’s submissions asking why the letters raising the objections to the voters’ roll were not addressed to the party’s Dispute Resolutions Committee.

“How did people who were now the new delegation end up voting when their letters were addressed to Mr Ntsekele? Where was the disputes resolution committee? What business did Mr Ntsekele have when he was a player (contestant) in the said election,” Justice Sakoane asked.

The new NEC’s lawyer, Adv Khotso Nthontho, responded to Adv Setlojoane by telling the court that Mr Ntsekele was no longer a member of the NEC at the time of the elections and that his clients became the NEC as soon as the results were announced.

“The old NEC symbolically stepped down from the high table before the elections to allow the LCN to conduct elections freely and fairly. Mr Hlaele says in his affidavit that he served as the old NEC’s deputy secretary general and they (old NEC) stepped down before the elections. The only people who had power during elections were the LCN and the Credentials Committee.

“When provisional results had already been announced, which I suspect it was the time that Mr Ntsekele was now aware that he had lost the position of secretary general to Mr Hlaele, he (Mr Ntsekele) further wrote to LCN ordering them to stop the counting, trying to save his position. He could not be a player holding a whistle.

“The conference is the highest decision making body of the party and… this means that my clients became the NEC the minute they were announced winners,” argued Adv Nthontho.

On his part, the LCN’s lawyer, Adv Patsa Mohapi, told the court that the LCN used a voters’ roll that was given to them by the Credentials Committee. He also presented a letter of appointment to disprove Mr Setlojoane’s submissions that the LCN had only been verbally appointed to conduct the elections on behalf of the ABC. Adv Mohapi further told the court that the old NEC only raised its objections when the results were being announced, suggesting that they only opposed when it became apparent that they had lost.

“We indicated in our papers that we used the voters’ roll given to us by the credentials committee. There was no way we could have added other names because we did not even know the delegates and there is nowhere in their (applicants’) papers where they raise the issue of the wrong roll. During elections, we called each constituency’s delegates one at a time, therefore, if there were objections regarding anyone who was not eligible to vote, they would have been raised then.

“The LCN conducted elections on 1 and 2 February and the next two days were dedicated to counting while on 5 February we announced the results. Objections were only raised on the results announcement day and those should have been directed to the ABC’s Disputes Resolution Committee and not to us.

“Mr Ntsekele’s letter ordering us to stop the elections was also written on 5 February. Besides that, he had no powers to direct us to stop elections. We submit that there were no irregularities and that this hopeless, helpless application must be dismissed with costs,” Adv Mohapi said.

It was then that the three judges adjourned the court saying they write the judgement which they intend to deliver before the end of this week.

“We intend to deal with this matter as quickly as possible. We will be writing the judgement which we intend to deliver next week although we cannot give a specific day,” Justice Nomngcongo said.

Whichever, way the verdict goes, it will have monumental consequences for the fractious ABC which faces collapse as a result of the power struggle between the old and new NECs.

Last week, Prof Mahao gave ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane a one week ultimatum to allow him and the rest of the new NEC into office or face a no confidence vote in parliament.

Dr Thabane’s grip on power is now hanging by a thread after a parliamentary no confidence motion was filed against him last Wednesday.

The motion was filed by ABC legislator for Koro-Koro constituency, Motebang Koma. It was immediately seconded by the Democratic Congress (DC)’s deputy leader Motlalentoa Letsosa.

Mr Koma proposed that the ABC’s Mosalemane constituency Member of Parliament (MP), Samuel Rapapa, takes over as caretaker prime minister, presumably pending processes that would lead Professor Nqosa Mahao to assume the reins of power.

 

 

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